Cleft sentences: form, function, and translation

Fischer, Klaus (2009) Cleft sentences: form, function, and translation. Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 21 (2). pp. 167-191. ISSN 1470-5427

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Abstract / Description

Although cleft sentences are possible constructions in both English and German, they are far more frequent in English texts. Durrell (2002: 479) observes in his Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage that “with the exception of the type 'Er war es, der mich davon abhielt […]', cleft sentence constructions sound unnatural in German and should be avoided.” The article discusses the form and function of cleft sentences in the context of other focusing devices. It shows that, although German and English cleft sentences have the same information structure, their stylistic value is very different. Using a short translation, Durrell’s observation is confirmed: in translating cleft sentences into German, semantic equivalence is often sacrificed for stylistic appropriateness. Although structural features of both languages are the ultimate cause of the contrast, they cannot explain choices in each individual case. The article argues that structural typology should be complemented with a typology of parole: the respective frequencies of cleft sentences in both languages reflect neatly into the more verbal style, more hierarchical sentence construction and, in certain respects, greater semantic transparency of English texts (by comparison with their German counterparts).

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: cleft sentences; German; English
Subjects: 400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 420 English & Old English
400 Language > 430 Germanic languages; German
Department: Guildhall School of Business and Law
Depositing User: Klaus Fischer
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2022 08:18
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 08:18


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